Wisconsin craftsman builds flawless CO-OP Model E3 replica
Remember those days when you were road farming and noted a neighbor’s straight cornrows? Some farmers got them perfectly straight, even before GPS existed. Those same farmers were probably particular about all phases of their farming operation. Bob Anderson is like that. Whether planting corn, managing the milking cows or working on machinery, Bob’s skillful touch always shows through. Now retired, Bob applies that same precision in the workshop. His latest creation is a 1/2-scale CO-OP Model E3 tractor, built to perfection.
Bob and his wife, Louise, live in Chetek, Wis., in the northwest part of the state. For years, Bob worked the fields and milked cows. But his heart was in shop work. The Andersons typically repaired their own tractors and built what they needed. “We built manure spreaders on trucks for ourselves and several neighbors,” Bob recalls.
In later years, he started a business constructing vis-a-vis horse-drawn carriages (also known as “vice versa” carriages, as the front seat faces back and the back seat faces forward). “In two years we probably built 150 of these, all uniquely outfitted,” Bob says.
When the Andersons left the farm in 1985, Bob began working in his shop full time. His creations include 50 pedal cars, 100 sleds and 20 scale versions of the Cretors popcorn wagon. He also constructed 20 horse-drawn wagons, full-size and scale models. “I’ve built a lot of things since moving off the farm,” he says. “I always liked tractors, but I hadn’t built a replica.”
Bob’s interest in farm equipment goes back to his childhood on the farm. “My folks had a Farmall Model H and an Allis-Chalmers Model C on steel,” he says. “I was probably 7 years old when I drove the Farmall H the first time. It was probably a few years later before I drove the old Allis-Chalmers C. During our farming years, Louise and I worked with Cockshutt, Oliver and some Allis-Chalmers equipment.”
As time passed, Bob’s interest in a scale-model tractor project intensified.“The thought of building a scale version of a tractor stayed in my mind,” he says. “I mulled over several ideas.” Eventually, Cockshutt won out. “We farmed with Cockshutt,” he says, “so I decided to build a 1/2-scale version of the CO-OP Model E3 built by Cockshutt.”
No matter the project, Bob tackles it with precise detail. His 1/2-scale replica was no exception. For starters, he acquired a full-size 1951 CO-OP Model E3. With the original tractor sitting alongside the 1/2-scale version under construction, he could take exact measurements.
Next, he found a Cub Cadet garden tractor. “They’re known for strong rear-ends and running gears,” he says. “It was cheap and easy to find.” The Cub’s engine ran, but it needed a tune-up; the rest of it was junk. Bob took measurements for the metalwork and had the nosepiece built; he fabricated the remaining sheet metal himself. The frame was stretched so the engine could be set back slightly. He tracked down rear wheels at a salvage yard, and bought new front wheels and a full set of tires.
Bob is resourceful in tracking parts. He found a wood pulley at a swap meet and salvaged a gas tank from a motorcycle. Although he describes the CO-OP’s PTO as “make-believe,” both it and its cover shield are built to scale. The drawbar can be shifted left or right, just like on the real tractor. He did the finish work – priming and painting – himself, and then applied the appropriate decals. Meanwhile, the full-size Model E3 also got a makeover; Bob did the bodywork, priming and painting.
Bob is a collector, but he had a market for his 1/2-scale creation and restored full-size tractor before he even started. Larry Pennell, Osceola, Wis., a long-time admirer of Bob’s work, put his order in early. “When I learned that he was going to build a 1/2-scale CO-OP tractor, I told him I’d buy it,” he says. “In fact, I said I would take both the original and the small version. I’ll keep them in my collection until the right buyer comes along.”
Bob’s display buildings are filled with unique and highly detailed pieces. Visitors might find the collection overwhelming, but Bob knows what he likes best. “I’ve made a lot of things over the years, but I have my favorites,” he says. “I’m very partial to the full-size, horse-drawn ice delivery wagon. I can’t describe why, but there is something different and special about that wagon.”
He also has a special fondness for Cretors popcorn wagons. “I took a liking to restoring those,” he says. “I’ve done quite a few for people all over the country. I’ve also made 3/4-scale, 1/2-scale and 1/4-scale versions of the Cretors popcorn wagon with working equipment. My favorite, though, would be the full-size, horse-drawn version. I really like horse-drawn wagons.”
Bob has done more than build exquisite collectibles. Through his hobby, he’s also built a network of friends all over the country. “Louise and I are very fortunate to have so many friends,” he says. “This has been very fulfilling for both of us.” FC
Fred Hendricks owns SunShower Acres, Ltd., Bucyrus, Ohio, a dairy cattle consulting business. He is an avid farm toy collector and a freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.